Chapter 34

After my shower, I returned to my bed—bruises across my arms and body from my constant training and battle against Eckhart. A heavy sigh escapes my lips, looking up at the ceiling before falling back into bed. The white strands of my hair spread across the sheets. With heavy eyes, I found myself quickly falling asleep.

It wasn’t long until I woke up during the night. With a slight chill, I went downstairs to find Mei sitting in a chair, holding a letter in her hand.

“Mei?” I asked quietly.

“Oh, Master, forgive me. I didn’t notice you there.”

“That’s a bit surprising from you.”

“Ahh yes, my apologies.”

“It’s fine, Mei. Tell me, is something wrong?”

There is a soft expression on her face before she stands up.

“It doesn’t concern you. I would like to keep it to myself.” Mei’s eyes grow dark, and a hidden side of her begins to express itself.

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“If you don’t want to tell me, I wouldn’t like to force you. Besides, I am heading out.”

“Shall I accompany you?”

“No, I just have to get myself tired, is all.”

“Very well, I will await your return.”

“Please, rest. I know you are exhausted. Your eyes don’t hide it.”

“You are quite observant, but I shall be fine.”

“Take it easy; I don’t need you falling over any time soon.”

“As you wish, Master.” She bows gently before returning to her seat. I grab my cloak and take off in the darkness of the night.

It was a nice and quiet night, my sword at my side. I spend the next hour just soaking in the atmosphere. The peaceful essence cleared my troubled mind and relaxed my aching muscles. For such a small body, it was adapting quickly to the training. Without much realization, I noticed I felt taller and broader. My arms were thicker and heavier than I remembered. The muscles I had built during my training became ever so highlighted.

I arrived at my destination and opened the door. Heading inside, I found myself in the familiar household of Juila. The woman stood by her fireplace, waiting for my arrival.

“You’re late,” Julia speaks bluntly.

“Rough day today. I passed out. Sorry.”

“Hmph, just wish you told me I would have let you rest.”

“No, I am fine, really.”

“You have been arriving here every single night after your training. You are pushing yourself too hard. Eckhart has told me of your progress. You are doing a fine job, so I don’t think you need my help to improve.” With a glance, she twists her head to speak toward me. I found our eyes met, and she seemed firm in her statement.

“You asked me about the secret behind the bow. I want to solve it as much as you do. I don’t believe it is a waste to continue to improve more than what is expected.”

“You have bags under your eyes. Not enough sleep is going to hinder all of your training if you don’t sleep properly.”

“I don’t need much sleep. Five to six hours should be enough to stave off any major negative effects. Besides, I must catch up quickly, or I will be left behind.”

“Is this about that Carlo?”

“Yes.”

“Does he intimidate you?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“What is wrong with a little rivalry? It is healthy for both of you to continue competing and-“

“No!”

Julia gets started by my outburst. I felt a little bad for doing so, but I stood firm.

“I am not as stupid or naive as I look. Carlo is something else. Something much more than I had imagined.”

“Are you frightened by him? I’ve seen him around a few times; he seems like a good kid. A little obnoxious, but that’s it.”

“I am afraid of his abilities. He is only five years older than me, but even so, he is a genius.”

“He doesn’t seem like the brightest kid.”

“That’s what makes him a genius. He has barely read the basics of our history and Swordcraft, yet he has mastered them just as fast as I have. His unusual ability to master a style far surpasses mine. We have to defeat Eckhart in order to graduate, and he told me he wanted to achieve that by next year.”

“In other words, he will become the youngest knight to graduate?”

“Precisely. Most knights train for a good number of years when they are teenagers. By the age of twenty-five, they can reach the title of knight. Carlo can become a knight just at sixteen years old.”

“That is quite impressive. But do you think someone who studies nothing can achieve such a feat?”

“It’s not a matter if I don’t believe it; it is a matter that his determination to grow stronger rivals that of a Demon Lord.”

“Surely you are joking.”

My straight face was enough for her to back up her statement and blink briefly. I wipe the sweat from my brow and sit down.

“If I let him overtake me that much, I didn’t train hard enough to compete with such a rival. My pride and my honor as an Aris don’t allow it. That is why I am begging you, please train me as well.” I grip my hands tightly.

“You are too much trouble, my Lord. But if I know any better, you will find someone else to train you. I might as well since I trust myself to do a good job. Hurry up and go to the room. I’ll be right over in a moment.”

“Thank you, Julia.” Excitedly, I burst from my seat and strolled toward the shooting range.

I quickly open the door to find Vindicta placed on a holder. Spending every night with this bow and training was exhausting, but I continued with my hard work to improve, even if it was slightly. Any progress was good progress. After months of training, both from Eckhart and Julia, I had grown stronger to wield such a mighty bow. I also found a fondness for Juila, as her sweet aroma and presence were comforting, to say the least. She did her best to teach me her skills and tips for using a bow like Vindicta. I held the bow, drew an arrow, and fired instantly. Only a slight movement of my finger as it released the arrow; I watched as it tore into the center of the target before hitting the wood on the other side.

“Without hesitation, glad Eckhart hasn’t dulled my teachings.” Julia walks in with her arms crossed.

After her injuries healed up, she returned to the guild hall to advise and aid travelers, adventures, and members of the guild like before, just with a couple of extra scars to show.

“I never forget a lesson.”

“Good, now show me.”

“Yes!”

Another few hours of the night pass. The very early morning of dawn approaches, and the sky slowly turns blue just as I finish my lessons with Juila. My fingers were sore, and bruised, and some fingers were bleeding. Sweat dripped down my forehead and onto my chest. Taking a deep breath, I cough as a sudden pat on the back from Juila startles me.

“You show much promise yourself, Caleb. Don’t let your friend outshine or outclass a noble like yourself. You have a lot to prove, but don’t let the idea of some genius kid with a sword fool you into thinking you are inferior. Without you, I would be dead, and so many other people in this village. Be proud that you have done more than him already; I only wish to give you the push forward needed to progress from this concern.”

“Hmph, thank you, Juila. Well, I shall see you later tonight.”

“Good night-well, morning as it seems.”

“Indeed, take care.”

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With the last parting words, I walk away from the house onto an alleyway path toward the home I was living in. I sluggishly tried to keep myself awake and standing from the sore feeling across my body. My hands were the most strained from all the training, but that didn’t stop me from pushing forward. It wasn’t a couple of minutes later that I pumped into a figure without realizing it. I toppled over and landed on my hands and knees.

“Ouch… Gah… Sorry, I should have been more careful. Are you alright?” A young woman’s voice calls out.

“Yeah, I am fine, thanks for asking-” Just turning around to take their hand, I stop in my motions to stare at the woman. For a moment, my eyes begin to play tricks on me.

I quickly rubbed them and looked at the young woman; her lengthy legs and slender torso matched her beautiful physique. Just for a moment, I nearly called out Tia’s name but stopped myself just before as I realized the woman wasn’t her. However, her long light golden hair, tied in a ponytail, and her long ears poke out to the sides of her head. Her soft, pale skin reflects the sun’s early rays, and her piercing amber-brown eyes stare at me.

“Are you sure you are, okay?” She asks while raising a brow.

“Y-Yeah, I am fine, thank you.” Taking her hand, I stand up.

“Hey, I know that cloak… You must be…! You must be Caleb, err… Lord Aris!” She bows quickly.

“No need to show such respect. Yes, I am Caleb Aris, the Lord overlooking this town for the time being. You are?”

“My apologies. I am Yula Anrai. I live here with my grandfather, but not for long, as my father only came here to stay away from the big castles and lands.”

“It is nice to meet you Yula I-“

“Well, what do we have here?” A male voice shouts.

“Excuse me?” I turn and face the man.

“Oh, it’s the runt and the dwarf’s girl. You two are quite the pair to find tonight. Ain’t that right, boss?”

“You refer to me as Gale, you idiot. I don’t really care for the girl, but I have a bone to pick with the kid.” Gale of the Phantom Blades stands tall with his party beside him.

“Look, Gale, I have no business with you. I was just heading home.”

“Tsk…! Shut up, all high and mighty brat. Just because you are a Lord doesn’t mean jack s*** to me! Teach this kid a lesson that nobles shouldn’t stick their nose in our town.”

“Will do, Gale!”

Approaching, the six men under Gale don’t draw their weapons but crack their knuckles as they encircle us. I place my hand on my blade, and the moment my hand feels the cold steel, I begin to feel my stomach sink as the familiar feeling begins to hold me. Breathing heavily, I start to panic; the thoughts of killing another person or the idea of having to kill them to survive draws the trauma of my soul once more…

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